An additional $80 million is going to the nation’s regional extension centers (RECs), health information exchanges (HIEs) and community colleges, the Office of the National Coordinator for Health IT, or ONC, said last week.
Dr. David Blumenthal, the national coordinator, announced these health IT grants in a Jan. 27 blog entry:
- To continue health IT training efforts, $32 million will go to 10 community college consortia, which collectively represent 70 institutions providing six-month, non-degree health IT education programs.
- The RECs will receive $32 million through the Health IT Extension Program as they continue to encourage providers to register for the Electronic Health Record (EHR) Incentive Program.
- Eight HIEs will receive $16 million in the form of 10 challenge grants. The challenges cover one of five key tasks — using HIE to achieve health-related goals, improving patients’ transition to long-term and post-acute care, allowing patients to mediate the HIE process, enhancing query capabilities, and enabling population-level data analytics.
Let’s look at each health IT grant individually.
The grants for the RECs should be put to good use, because their influence led the first recipients of EHR Incentive Program checks to register for the program in the first place, and demonstrated that any provider, not just wealthy, urban ones, can qualify for meaningful use incentives.
Meanwhile, the success of the health IT training initiative won’t be fully realized until May, when the colleges’ first classes graduate. Given Blumenthal’s estimate that the industry needs to add more than 10,000 health IT professionals every year to keep up with the rigors of the EHR Incentive Program, it’s probably safe to say that any health IT training is better than no training at all.
The 10 HIE challenge grants, then, will be the ones worth watching. The technology necessary to enable health information exchange has proved quite difficult to implement. Moreover, each state HIE seems to be in a different stage of development. Indiana and Massachusetts, for example, each received two challenge grants; on the other hand, many states still remain in the planning stage.
Here’s hoping that the challenge grant winners and other leaders in health information exchange can demonstrate measurable, repeatable success. If they can’t, there’s a lot more at stake than wasted grant money.